The first shot of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter at approximately 4:30 on the morning of April 12, 1861, which placed the national 150th anniversary in April of 2011.
However, according to Jennifer Rydell, librarian and program coordinator at Chattanooga's Public Library, the commemoration of a period in American history that has forever lingered in the country’s consciousness is far more personal for each battleground.
Tonight from 6:30 to 8 p.m., The Public Library in downtown Chattanooga launches a five-part lecture and discussion series—”Making Sense of the American Civil War”—that examines numerous perspectives of the Civil War from the trials an average American faced in his or her political alignment to the experiences of battles like Antietam.
The series is part of the longstanding program Let’s Talk About It, presented by the American Library Association and which grew out of a partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Public Library, in addition to libraries in Clarksville, Memphis and Morristown, was selected to host the program first by Humanities Tennessee. “Making Sense of the American Civil War” will run every other Tuesday from tonight until Nov. 13.
The other sites will launch their series in the winter and spring of next year.
“One of the key reasons we signed on in providing this series to Tennessee was to get people engaged in using the history of political and social divides as a way of talking about current issues,” said Melissa Davis, director of the Tennessee Community History Program at Humanities Tennessee. “It’s history used in the context of a discussion about people's differences and their differing points of view.”
The program’s format is split into a lecture followed by discussions, in which the participants break into smaller groups. Linda Moss Mines, Hamilton County historian and head of the History Department at Girls Preparatory School, will deliver the lectures for all of the five events. Each night features readings—novels, nonfiction texts on the Civil War and primary documents—dedicated to specific topics within the larger picture of the conflict, including the personal struggles of men and women, the challenges to a citizen’s understanding of loyalty, the facts and the later interpretations of Antietam and the Battle of Shiloh, and, finally, the legacy of emancipation.
Davis explained the scholars behind “Making Sense of the American Civil War” intentionally shaped the reading list around the idea of exploring the individual’s experience of those four years from a broad spectrum of perspectives.
Though for Chattanoogans, this area’s personal sesquicentennial will occur in 2013 with the 150th anniversary of the battles on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, interest in the Civil War remains a strong force linking native Southerners and transplant families across generations.
Rydell’s family originally immigrated to Michigan after 1865 and later moved south, but she recently discovered she is related to a Medal of Honor recipient through marriage.
“It’s still very much in people’s minds, and with genealogy becoming popular, you never know what you’ll find,” Rydell said.
All lectures are open to the public. Register for discussion groups by calling 423-757-5317.